mid-day's 39th anniversary: Making space for art

By Benita Fernando | Mumbai

A Parisienne is finding ways to give city artists, curators and art foundations platforms for production and exhibition

Eve Lemesle's arts management consultancy and artist residency effectively synchronises the various steps surrounding a work of art. Picture credit: Ashish Raje

Founder, What About Art? and Managing Director, Mumbai Art Room

If there is a word we could choose for Eve Lemesle, it would be connections. Over the past few years, she has become a reliable name in the visual arts sector in India. Through What About Art?, her arts management agency and WAA, an artist residency, Lemesle has effectively synchronised the various steps surrounding a work of art, right from the artist's private studio practice to engaging with the public during an exhibition. And then, last year, Lemesle donned one more hat. Not-for-profit arts platform, Mumbai Art Room chose her as its managing director.

It was a step in the right direction. Mumbai Art Room underwent a restructuring last year to become a non-commercial curatorial lab. As managing director of Mumbai Art Room, Lemesle develops a curatorial lab where young curators get a chance to connect with mentors from across the world and get critical feedback. They also get a chance to realise their projects at Mumbai Art Room's Colaba gallery — a modest space, no doubt, but still important.

"Opportunities like these are few and far between in India. Through mentorship, there is the willingness to share a network, and to give back to the arts community," she says. It is this sensibility that got Lemesle from Paris to Mumbai in the first place. Working with arts production and management, and bringing Indian art frequently to Paris, Lemesle made an annual business trip to India, touching base with people in New Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai in the early 2000s. One day, she told herself that if there is a city she'd like to move to, it would be Mumbai. And so, she did, setting up What About Art? in 2009 in Bandra.

It helped that while she studied Arts Management at Sorbonne University, Paris, she also opted for South Asian Studies at the Institute of Oriental Languages in Paris, and picked up some Hindi along the way. The language comes particularly handy when she has to deal with carpenters, movers, and fabricators. It is useful even in Bangladesh, where the Parisienne has to work with locals as she goes about producing the Dhaka Art Summit, as she has for the last three occasions for the biennial summit. "An arts producer is a profile that is easier to explain today than it was a decade ago in India," she says.

The commercial work that she and her team undertake at WAA has another side to it. It has been successfully running an artist residency through its Bandra apartment, helping young artists cultivate their practice and get to know their contemporaries across the world through exchanges. "Artist residencies are an essential place between art school and the debut show at a gallery. This is where artists can experiment and develop their network without the pressure of a commercial space," she says.

Bandra is also what Lemesle has been calling home since she moved here. But, she is gearing up for a shift to Colaba, reasons for which include being closer to Alibaug and its natural beauty. Does she miss Paris? No, she says. But, she still owes Paris. "As I say 'in France, when it's sunny, we go to the park; when it's raining, we go to the museum'. This instilled an interest in art very early on in my life."

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